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Simon Read [Celluloid 02.08.17] post apocalyptic horror vampires

Even the title seems oddly uninspired. Very little of this follow-up to Jim Mickle's excellent 2010 vampire-horror film Stake Land seems fresh or exciting. Everything we witness feels inevitable, as though the writer and the actors were simply going through well-worn motions. This doesn't mean that the film is bad. On the contrary, the film is decidedly 'not bad', but after waiting seven years for a sequel I would have hoped for more than that.

Connor Paolo and Nick Damici return as Martin and Mister, survivors of a vampire plague which has left the world in ruins and humanity on its knees. We pick up where Stakeland left off, with Martin living in the relative safety of 'New Eden', an isolated community of survivors somewhere in rural Canada. He has started to raise a family, but has not forgotten his adventures with Mister and the debt of gratitude he owes to his mysterious saviour.

An unexpected attack by The Brotherhood (an extremist cult of humans who worship vampires) destroys New Eden and leaves Martin devastated. Determined to seek revenge, he decides to track down Mister and take the fight to the vampires and their new leader, Mother, a half-blind vampire who resembles a mutilated Tilda Swinton. We follow Martin on his long trek back to the US where he (somewhat miraculously) finds Mister, and from here they ally themselves with another small group of survivors living in an abandoned convent. Here they find respite from the marauding vamps and crazy cultists outside, but it doesn't last, and soon our heroes and their new friends are gearing up to defend themselves from an all-out assault by Mother's army.

Damici pens the script here (he co-write the original) and his focus is on hope defeating despair. We learn that Mister, once a ruthless killing machine, has softened with age, whereas Martin has become bitter and vengeful, willing to sacrifice himself for an ounce of retribution. Early scenes see Martin defending himself from apparently motiveless attempts on his life by psychotic strangers, and these play with the idea that humanity has brought this all upon itself. As Martin's voiceover ponders, "The only thing which grows anymore is hate." We watch forced gladiatorial combat between man and vampire (very Land of the Dead) or even man and man (very Escape From New York), taking place in the seedier human camps, but once Martin and Mister re-connect, hope begins to emerge.

The main problem with The Stakelander is just how routine everything feels. It's inevitable that our heroes will come together, find some good-hearted survivors and work together to save the day. It's inevitable that Mother will stage a siege on their little community, that friends will die, secrets will be revealed, sacrifices made, and that hope will grow from the ashes. If the first film was an unexpected joy (and I remember the hugely positive reception it got at a festival screening I attended way back in '10) then the sequel feels like a chore, something its makers half-heartedly hauled together.

The directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen (Body) do a solid job in keeping the pace fairly brisk, and the film is well-crafted in terms of basic nuts-and-bolts action and choreography. What's missing is any sense of spectacle or awe in amongst the gunshots and gore. Who can forget the scene in Stakeland where helicopters piloted by the Brotherhood begin dropping live vampires onto a human settlement, causing absolute chaos? Nothing in this film captures that sense of terror. The original film's immediacy and urgency is simply absent here.

What's more, the final showdown between humans and vampires towards the end feels rather damp. There appear to be only a handful of people on either side, and since it's shot in grainy darkness we often struggle to comprehend exactly what's happening on screen. Much of this, I'm sure, is down to budgetary restrictions, but nevertheless we can't help but feel underwhelmed. What ought to be a climactic final battle simply doesn't contain enough bang (or bite) for us to sit up and appreciate the effort being made.

Paolo and Dimici do retain their chemistry, although now that Martin is a seasoned fighter there exists a mutual respect. After learning something of Mister's past, the events which set him on his path as a fearless vampire killer, we begin to see parallels between the pair, giving the characters a little more dimension, and this is good. Dimici brings his game to the film, and his character is always interesting to watch. Mister is often brutal and violent, but also grumpy and funny - like a dangerously drunk uncle at a wedding. New characters include a doctor named Earl and his grizzled husband, Bat, and they provide some comic relief as capable yet often bumbling allies.

As one would imagine, the film leaves itself open for another sequel, and had it been made in 2012 I'd have welcomed a third installment as there remains potential for the Stakeland universe to continue. Given the long wait and fairly lackluster result here though, I don't think I'll be holding my breath until we see Martin and Mister again.

Recommended Release: Stake Land II: The Stakelander

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MichaelRAllen (11 months ago) Reply

I watched this one recently and thought: "how disappointing." During some scenes, I could not tell, at all, what was happening, because of all that darkness. I think the script was a bit of a muddle too. The film just felt rushed, overall.


MichaelRAllen (11 months ago) Reply

Just kidding! Loved it really!


MichaelRAllen (11 months ago) Reply

I have an impersonator. Cool.


MichaelRAllen (10 months ago) Reply

Wait.. Who are you people?!?!?

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